The Environmental Protection Agency reaffirmed that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, is safe to use and unlikely to cause cancer. 

“EPA has thoroughly evaluated potential human health risk associated with exposure to glyphosate and determined that there are no risks to human health from the current registered uses of glyphosate and that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” EPA said in an interim registration review decision announced Thursday.

The decision, which drew both praise and criticism, comes as lawyers representing Roundup manufacturer Bayer and plaintiffs who claim exposure to Roundup caused their cancer are discussing a settlement of thousands of cases nationwide

The agency also issued proposed interim decisions containing mitigation measures for five widely used neonicotinoid insecticides — acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam.

The glyphosate decision includes mitigation measures to reduce spray drift, including prohibitions on spraying during temperature inversions or when the wind speed exceeds 15 miles per hour, and applying with medium or coarser droplets.

EPA "identified potential ecological risk to mammals and birds, but these risks are expected to be limited to the application area or areas near the application area," the agency said in the interim decision, concluding “the benefits outweigh the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used according to label directions.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation praised the EPA action. AFBF President Zippy Duvall called it “a win for sustainable agriculture,” because it “means farmers can continue to use conservation tillage and no-till methods on their farms to conserve soil, preserve and increase nutrients, improve water quality, trap excess carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Liam Condon, president of Bayer’s Crop Science Division, said the decision “adds to the overwhelming consensus among leading expert health regulators worldwide for more than 40 years that these products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic.”

But Lori Ann Burd, the Center for Biological Diversity’s director of environmental health, said there is a “trove of peer-reviewed research, by leading scientists, that’s found troubling links between glyphosate and cancer” and also pointed to the 2015 finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen.

Charles Benbrook, an environmental consultant who has served as an expert witness for plaintiffs suing Bayer over glyphosate exposure, said he was “flabbergasted” by the decision, saying it does nothing to reduce worker exposures and risks.

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The decision comes as lawyers representing Bayer and plaintiffs who claim exposure to Roundup caused their cancer are discussing a settlement of thousands of cases nationwide.

The interim decision is “akin to a final decision,” Burd said. It finalizes both the agency’s human health risk assessment and its preliminary ecological risk assessment. The agency still must complete endocrine disruptor screening and a review of glyphosate’s effects on endangered species.

EPA proposes mitigation for neonicotinoids

The neonicotinoids decision covers five products: acetamiprid, clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam.

EPA said it’s proposing mitigation including:

  • “management measures to help keep pesticides on the intended target and reduce the amount used on crops associated with potential ecological risks;
  • “requiring the use of additional personal protective equipment to address potential occupational risks;
  • “restrictions on when pesticides can be applied to blooming crops in order to limit exposure to bees;
  • “language on the label that advises homeowners not to use neonicotinoid products; and
  • “cancelling spray uses of imidacloprid on residential turf under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) due to health concerns.”

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed decisions once they are announced in the Federal Register.

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